Nothing like a blogging resolution to bring blogging to a halt, eh? I'll play catch-up by doing a couple of ancestors at once.
Morris and Julia* Rosenfeld Lauter were my great-great-grandparents on my mother's side. That side of my family has been in Philadelphia from the beginning — the beginning being Morris's arrival from Ukraine in 1891. The Lauters and the Rosenfelds came from Berdichev, a famous shtetl in the region of Kiev. Morris came to the U.S. by himself in 1891, and Julia followed a year later with their children. All five of their children, Mary, Abe (my great-grandfather), Rose, Fannie, and Lizzy, were born in the old country. In 1892, when Julia traveled to the U.S. with them, the oldest of them was 7 and the youngest was an infant. The mind boggles at what such a journey must have been like.
"My grandmother spoke only Jewish"
My grandmother Hope, Julia's granddaughter, used to tell me, "My grandmother spoke only Jewish and I spoke only English, but we understood each other perfectly." I suspect that's a pattern repeated across the generations in many immigrant families. It suggests that my grandmother Hope knew a Yiddish-speaking environment in her earliest years — something of which we (or at least I) otherwise had no hint during Hope's later years. Morris died in the year Hope was born, but Julia lived until Hope was 27, so my grandmother knew her Yiddish-speaking grandmother for a significant portion of her life.
The census, on the other hand, offers an interesting and different window on the linguistic state of affairs: in 1900, the census recorded the linguistic and literacy competence of residents. Julia is listed as speaking English and being able to read, but not being able to write. Here's a detail of the entry for the Lauter family in the 1900 census. It shows that Morris (listed first) came in 1891 and Julia and the children a year later. The boxes to the right contain answers to the questions Can read? Can write? Can speak Engliish? For Julia (second line), the answers are yes-no-yes.
Who knows whether this means she could read English but not write it, or read Yiddish but not write it, or...? It's easy to imagine that she could speak some English when she needed to, but chose to speak Yiddish at home, which is what her granddaughter remembered.
Looking around the neighborhood with Google Maps
Despite my Philadelphia connections, including having gone to college nearby, I'd never really thought about the geography of Jewish Philadelphia around the turn of the last century. When I was pulling together my notes for this post, I was reminded that Morris's occupation was listed as a grocer – a fact confirmed by his listings in city directories from 1899 on – and I finally thought to look up his address in Google Maps. 518 Lombard Street is now a very nicely renovated corner townhouse, with what looks like it could have been a commercial space on the ground floor. It's reasonable to expect that the Lauters lived above their shop.
Since I don't know that neighborhood well, I then thought to "walk around" virtually to see what was nearby. Lo and behold, look what's directly across the street!
A rather splendid synagogue, which turns out to be historic Congregation B'nai Abraham. That impressive building was not built until 1910, but the Lauters' residence (and business) at that corner puts them right at the center of Jewish life in that part of Philly in those days. The major commercial center in the community was 4th Street (Der Ferder) above South Street, just a couple of blocks away.
While I was exploring the neighborhood with Google and the census, it occurred to wonder whether the Doskows, the family of my great grandmother Sarah who married Abe Lauter, lived nearby. Back to the 1900 census, and yup: 434 Lombard Street. Little Abe and little Sarah grew up just a block apart. I'll come back to the Doskows in a future post.
*A note from a cousin says that Julia's Hebrew name was Jochebed — the name of Moses's mother — and her Yiddish name, by which her immediate family knew her, was Chavid. But she went by Julia for all public purposes once she was in the U.S. Julia is on her tombstone: